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The Good News on Wage Growth

August 14, 2017

The July jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics brought welcome news on wage growth: Median weekly earnings rose 4.2% on an annual basis, the fastest pace seen since 2007. The underlying story about wage growth may be even better than the headline number suggests, according to updated work by Daly, Hobijn, and Pyle (2016).

Figure 1 shows why. It separates wage growth for workers who are in stable full-time jobs from those who are moving into and out of full-time employment.

Figure 1
Median weekly earnings growth, overall and by full-time status

However, this is not as negative as it might sound. The drag on wage growth due to these flows into and out of full-time work reflects changes in workforce composition associated with demographics and a strong labor market.

Overall, these factors have combined to hold down growth in the median weekly earnings measure by a little under 2 percentage points (Figure 2), a sizable effect relative to the normal expected gains.

Most recently, the effect from flows into and out of full-time work has started to tick upward and might be a sign of stronger growth ahead.

Figure 2
Contributions to drag on median earnings growth from entry to and exit from full-time employment

Mary C. Daly is executive vice president and Director of Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Bart Hobijn is a professor at Arizona State University.

Joseph Pedtke is a research associate at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

References

Daly, Mary C., Bart Hobijn, and Benjamin Pyle. 2016. “What’s Up with Wage Growth?” FRBSF Economic Letter 2016-07.

Daly, Mary C., and Bart Hobijn. 2016. “The Intensive and Extensive Margins of Real Wage Adjustment.” Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Working Paper 2016-04.

Daly, Mary C., and Bart Hobijn. 2017. “Composition and Aggregate Real Wage Growth.” American Economic Review 107(5), pp. 349–352.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.